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CD REVIEW: "Ultramarine" by The Ocean Blue

Korda Records
"Ultramarine" by The Ocean Blue
Fertile Ground Compost Service
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Ocean Blue – Ultramarine (Korda
Records) 2013

Anyone who knew me in the 1990’s knew I was prone to
drone on and on about how much I loved Hershey, Pa.-based dream-n-jangle-pop
band The Ocean Blue.

I had first heard The Ocean Blue on a “frigid winter
day” in late December 1989, while riding in my friend Fletch’s 1955 Chevy Bel
Air. It was the quartet’s first album, their recently-released self-titled
debut. I was immediately smitten by the chiming guitars, thoughtful and
introspective lyrics and the mix of (the much-missed) Steve Lau’s
sax-and-synth. This music was tailor-made, it seemed, for Andrew West Griffin.

I became such a fan over the next five years that I
would write them fan letters. Singer/guitarist David Schelzel was seemingly
above writing back. That duty was put on nice-guy bassist Bobby Mittan. I loved
getting letters back from Bobby.

And really, they were all “nice guys.” Schelzel’s
contemplative lyrics spoke to me and many other 20-somethings. Plus the music
had a New Wave-y transcendent vibe and a vaguely Christian-ese tone, something
that appealed to me at the time. Some of my best memories of those years, The
Ocean Blue provided the soundtrack.

Now, some 23 years later, The Ocean Blue is still
sailing the seas of sparkling, ethereal and brainy pop with the full-fledged
album Ultramarine, a colorful play on
the name of their 1991 album Cerulean.
While they’ve been on hiatus for a the better part of a decade since 2004’s
terrific Waterworks EP, the band,
which includes original members Schelzel and Mittan, along with longtime
guitarist Oed Ronne and new drummer Peter Anderson, have crafted an appealing
album that has been released at a time when shimmering, cerebral guitar-pop is
once again garnering serious respect.

I attribute this to the new generation of young
adults who are discovering the great alt-rock and college rock stuff from the
late 1980’s and early 1990’s. A lot of those bands, like the Jesus & Mary
Chain, for instance, are finding themselves popular again.

Anyway, Ultramarine kicks off with a programmed drum
beat and Schelzel’s atmospheric guitar chords washing over the listener on the
bouncy number “Give It a Try.”

The single, “Sad Night, Where is The Morning?,” has
a catchy groove (Anderson’s drumming really gets to shine here) while the band
slows things down before picking up again in a grand fashion on “New York 6
A.M.” It’s sort of an early Simon & Garfunkel observational piece, the type
of material that is second nature to Schelzel (think 1999’s “Denmark”).

For those familiar with Waterworks, that EP kicked off with a short, dreamy, synth-heavy
instrumental called “Fast Forward Reverse.”

On Ultramarine, Schelzel and crew flesh out this
9-year old track, adding lyrics and a lot more instrumentation and flourishes
that were missing on the original. A far more interesting track this time out.

Echoes of 1993’s float-pop tune “Ice Skating at
Night” are inescapable on the swirling “Touch Down on Earth,” one of the most
dreamy songs on Ultramarine.

The dream-waltz of “Blow My Mind” (dig those clacky,
echoey drums) sounds like an outtake from the aforementioned Cerulean album (which got a lot of
airplay in my college dorm room back in the day). Meanwhile, the percussive and
mature “Latin Blues” references their early hit “Drifting, Falling” while
Schelzel repeats “No more war.”

The hamfisted “A Rose is a Rose” is not typical
Ocean Blue material. It’s a trifle irritating only that it doesn’t seem like
the sort of song that would make the final cut on a TOB album. Perhaps a

But then the band jumps back into familiar oceanic
territory with the heartache of “Ground Gives Way.” A simple song in many
respects, but with a depth that stays with you.

And that’s really a way to describe much of Ultramarine. Honestly, it doesn’t rank
with Cerulean, quite possibly the band’s best album, but it is a testament to a
band that has stayed true to its crisp-yet-warmhearted musical vision.

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2013 Red Dirt Report

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About the Author

Andrew W. Griffin

Editor & Owner.

Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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